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Showing posts with the label art of memory

A Poem about Home

Just a few nights after my mother died, my sister Ellen and I were driving to a hotel near the small cottage at a senior community where my parents have lived since 2013.


"What are we going to do?  Mom was home." she said.
"I feel homeless," I said.
It is true.  Our mother's heart was our port in the storm, an open welcome, a space of rest and respite.  The bricks and mortar surrounding her didn't matter.  She, herself, made us feel safe and loved, always and unconditionally.

I came across this poem by Ruth Carr, that reminds me of our family home, and even more of our mom:

There is a House

there is a house
whose door will not close in my face
where there will always be a place for one more
at the table.


there is a house
that lets in light all the year round
even in the winter the weakest of suns
reaches in.

there is a house
with walls that hold me like branches
with a roof of summer leaves
and roots that go deep.

there is a house where I can be long and n…

Public History Summer Course

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Take a class with me this summer! Online conversations, field trips, occassional class meetings.  You will love it.  Registration Information: click here.



Places Project Summary

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I copied over this article from the UMass History Dept blog. 


In 2015, I set off for south-central Tennessee’s South Cumberland plateau to take up a two-year  Mellon fellowship with the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies at Sewanee: the University of the South.  The Collaborative, a partnership with Yale, envisioned starting and sustaining multidisciplinary, community-engaged, curricular projects that had place as their focus. In other words: pretty much any public history endeavor would fit the bill.
I had some basic goals for my Mellon project.  I wanted it to be something I could begin and complete in two years.   I wanted it to be digital.  I wanted it to engage local history and memory.  I wanted students with different interests and strengths to have meaningful roles to play.  Most of all, I wanted to undertake a humanities project that the pragmatic people of the region would see as useful — if not while I was doing it, then at least when it was done.  T…

Six Word Memoir Project Comes to Salem, Massachusetts

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Once upon a time, I had a particularly wonderful group of Intro to Public History students.  We were working with the idea of memoir as public history.  As a lark, really, I asked them to write their life story in six words, no more no less.  The idea came from  Smith Magazine and we all found it to be really compelling.  So compelling, in fact, that we decided to involve our campus in the process.  My students got hundreds of students involved.  They shared their experiences, from the mundane to the sacred and everything in between.


As public historians, we grappled with how to curate, to care for, other people's stories.  We came up with creative ways of getting people to contribute and we took turns gatekeeping content and dealing with difficult memoirs, painful ones, angry and sad ones.  We talked and debated and ultimately designed a series of arresting exhibits all over campus.  You can see them here.  From kitchen staff to the Vice President, so many members of our commu…

The Places Project Gets Recognized

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Our project, the Places Project, got featured on the Sewanee website.  It is always strange to read an effort to try to capture something that for you is fluid and so very much alive -- even a great piece like this.  The Places Project is in my bones right now.  I am not ready for it to be static, but I am ready for the word to get out there about it.


Anna Sumner Noonan C’17, Catherine Casselman, C’17, and Margo Shea pore over maps of the South Cumberland Plateau annotated with local residents’ stories about places that are significant to them. Photo by Buck Butler Drawing the People’s Map A Sewanee professor and her students collect stories about places on the South Cumberland Plateau to compile a rich topography of personal history.

You can read the full piece here:
http://www.sewanee.edu/features/story/places-project.html


Let Go of Your Sorrows? What To Make of Derry's Temple

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How do you say the unsayable?  Translate the untranslatable?  It makes sense that David Best, a sculptor deeply embedded in the "you can't understand it until you've been to it" Burning Man festival would come to Derry, Northern Ireland with ingredients for a community project designed around reflection and release. Sponsored and organized by Artichoke Trust, which specializes in helping artists engage communities in larger-than-life installations located in unpredictable spaces, Temple was conceived as a community process.  To build it.  To inhabit it. To witness as it burned.

According to Best, the point of Temple was twofold: to create a space for catharsis and to reframe bonfires. Bonfires, of course, have a long history in Northern Ireland.   There were fires to commemorate the 12th, the Relief of Derry in August, and then tit-for-tat bonfires to observe Lady Day, or the feast of the Assumption of Mary a couple days later.  And those bonfires, it is said, are art…

Teaching Serial as Public History

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Photo credit: Kate Preissler I took a risk this semester and dedicated a fairly large chunk of class time to teaching Serial in Intro to Public History.  It was placed in the syllabus as a bridge between a unit on memory, identity and different publics and a unit on settings and tools for public history practice.  I was inspired to do this by my own engagement with the podcast (errrr, obsessive binge listening) and by some great email conversations with Kate Preissler, Digital Projects Manager at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA, who wrote a fabulous blog post on Serial and public history for the NCPH blog.
In case you've been under a rock, Serial was a hugely popular podcast that ran for twelve episodes last autumn.  It examined the murder of high school student Hae Min Lee in 1999 in Baltimore and pulled apart the evidence used to successfully convict Lee's ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed -- who pleaded not guilty and maintains his innocence to this day, from his cell in a maxim…

Art of Memory: Samuel Beckett

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Comments I made at a panel on Beckett March 5, 2015.....

If there is one Irish writer whom you do not normally associate with memory, it would have to be Samuel Beckett.  Often portrayed as the "artist from nowhere," and as having an imagination situated somehow "outside of history," Beckett the man and Beckett the writer were almost obsessively forward-looking.  Exploding categories, questioning identities, accommodating chaos.   Looking back? Nah. Except Beckett insisted he could remember being in utero.  Yup. And he didn't like it one bit.  

Seems that for Sam, suffering started early.  He claimed, "It was an existence where there was no voice, no movement that could free me from the agony and darkness I was subjected to."

Greetings from the Ledge: A Pop-Up Museum

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I was running an administrative errand in a building I visit only infrequently on campus when I came across a small DIY pop-up exhibit commemorating numerous victims of racist violence.  Welcome to The Ledge Gallery, folks.  

This makes me glad. 



It is simple. It is somber. It is done with a very sparse curatorial hand --- no labels, no descriptions.  The images speak for themselves.  The images speak to those who stop, who look, who listen to what the they say.

A memorial card for Malcolm X holds the center of the tableau.  It forefronts "Our Black Shining Prince," the name Ossie Davis chose for Malcolm X in the eulogy he delivered at Faith Temple Church of God in February, 1965.  Davis famously likened X to Jesus and called on supporters to continue his work when he exhorted, " what we place in the ground is no more now a man—but a seed-which, after the winter of discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was and is—a Prince—our…

What is Public History? A Slam Poem Ode by an "Intro to PH" Undergraduate

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Every time I teach Intro to Public History, we begin the semester with two sets of readings.  One set examines public history as it is situated within:
the history of the national parksthe discipline of historythe context of efforts to amplify invisible, untended or uncomfortable historiesthe context of ordinary people's interests and engagements with the pastThese go over very well.  
The other set?  Classics like Becker's "Everyman His Own Historian," David Lowenthal's meditation on the benefits and burdens of the past, Pierre Nora's famous (and famously dense) discussion of lieux de memoire, "sites" both literal and metaphorical that serve as bridges between history and memory and as anchors of identity in a rapidly changing and homogenizing world.
These go over terribly.  And I assign them anyway.  
This semester, I made my students do a reading response to these readings.  Some of them were fabulous. Some of them, shall we say, reflected the comple…

The Historic Salem Re-Photography Class Photo of 2014

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There  was drama from beginning to end.  Getting desks and chairs and setting them up outside Old Town Hall.  Getting  bunch of parking tickets at 8:23 a.m. (OK, I admit I am posting this in part to provide a link to it -- so I can prove to the Parking Hearing Officer that my entire class was downtown to set up this photo. I am hoping s/he will have mercy on me and my promise to protest or pay all the tickets!)  Getting wet on the rainy, slushy way to and from our site to take a photo to enter into a contest for first year seminar class pictures.  Since our class was on The City: History, Memory and Imagination, I think we did OK.







Nostalgia: A Cost/Benefit Analysis

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I am one of those extremely lucky people who is graced with an old friend. A longtime friend.  A friend who has known me from the pigtails  -- to the dreads -- to appropriately adult hair -- to the hair coloring conundrums of the moment.  A friend who remembers my fascination with Fisher Price "little people" and deep love for roller skates, who sat in the beater cars, offered kleenex in the wake of disastrous love affairs, celebrated victorious moments, made me laugh in the face of ordinary griefs.   Nothing I do or say will ever surprise her, quite simply because she has seen it all.  And, I like to think, vice versa.




Last week, I was complaining about my life.  Why so little of this?  Why so much of that?  Why so difficult? Blah blah blah.  And my friend, my dear friend of these four decades, said, "You've got to stop it. You have to let it go."

"Stop what?"  I asked. She said, "Nostalgia. It's all nostalgia."

"Huh?  Nostalgia for …

The Salem Witch Trial Memorial - “What's This Memorial Really About?”

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I was supposed to give this talk today, but it got rained out.  I may have the chance to give it again sometime soon, but I thought I'd post this here in case anyone is interested.
The Salem Witch Trial memorial was erected in 1992 to mark the tercentenary of the witch hysteria. It was designed as the first physical structure in the city of Salem to commemorate the trials and the execution of twenty innocent people suspected of witchcraft in 1692.
What a beautiful, reflective, introspective space.  People often forget just how long the memorial was in coming to fruition.Historic Salem, Inc. created a committee in 1963 to commemorate what they then referred to as the Witch Delusion.The idea was that the memorial would rest on Gallows Hill, where the hangings are believed to have taken place.At that point, the Essex Institute, now part of the Peabody Essex Museum, and the Massachusetts Society for the Preservation of American Antiquities, now Historic New England, had tossed around th…

The Art of Memory: The Fault in Our Stars

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I finally read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.  I am really glad I did.  

I was captivated by the ways the characters experienced their interior lives together, the way they took lonely separateness and made something new.  They co-created narratives about what was happening around them that were sparkly, beautiful, larger -- much larger -- than what they might have conjured on their own.



'Bye for Now, Derry

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I've arrived back in Salem, the month in Derry having flown by.  I've yet to unpack, literally or metaphorically.  But playing with photoshop and some of my final photographs has been a nice way to reconcile the two places, the here and the there.  
Good, as well, because it makes me more at ease with the writing process that awaits.  There is no objective telling of a story.  The author is always interested.  We play, rearrange, add and remove.  We accentuate tone, increase exposure to some bits, decrease it to others.  Storytellers -- and historians are ultimately storytellers -- are artists.  
Let the storytelling begin.





The City Revisited: A Re-photographic Study of Derry

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A lot of really wonderful things happened in Derry, or Londonderry, (or Legenderry even,) last year when it became the first UK City of Culture.  For a small city, it's been big at attracting interesting and creative people; last year there was funding and impetus for people to continue and build on that tradition.

One of my favorite projects was created by two photographers, Andy Horsman and Paul McGuckin.  They rephotographed iconic Derry photos, many taken over 100 years ago.  Using a large format camera that would have been used to take the originals (5" x 4") they did some editing magic to knit the images together in surprising, poignant and occasionally haunting ways. You can check out their awesome blog to learn more about them, their technique and the evolution of the project. A montage of their work mashing up more contemporary cityscapes in Derry with scenes of the civil rights movement and the Troubles can be found here, at the BBC History website.

I didn't …

Art of Memory: On May Day

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On May Day, I always take a moment to read the piece below, written by Eduardo Galeano, whose writing intertwines in so many ways with memory, as I've discussed here.   Long before I sat in a public history class, it was this piece that brought home to me how power constructs memorial narratives and made me wonder if reshaping memorial narratives might alter the architecture of power.  I've become more cynical about that over time, but I still love this prose poem. 

The Art of Memory: Jorge Luis Borges and "Funes the Memorious"

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Access.  Access.  Access.  

Yesterday in class we explored digital history.  The plethora of digital documentation was on everyone's minds. We discussed how archivists will try to preserve and historians of the future will try to sort through all the video clips, recordings, tweets, texts, status updates, social media profiles, emails, blogs, etc. that we all produce.

Someone said people don't need to be educated formally anyone -- they can just go to the internet and become experts on topics that interest them. (I just resisted the urge to snort and harrumph.) Another person exhorted that people don't need to read anymore, don't need to know anything -- because everything is always accessible at the touch of a button.

I said I thought they needed more skills, not fewer, to make sense of all the information to which they have access.

It led to a conversation about how to make meaning from all this "stuff," how information requires interpretation, how the challeng…

The Art of Memory: Sean Tyrrell and the "Big Songs"

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Had the pleasure of seeing Galway songwriter, troubadour and vintage instrument aficionado Sean Tyrrell last night in Somerville.  I was charting a path down memory lane, having seen him at least once at his regular Sunday night gig at the Roisin Dubh in Galway and a couple times at Sandinos in Derry over the years. Strange to listen to music remembering your younger self listening to the same music, trying to place not just where you were, but who you were the last time you experienced it.


The Art of Memory: Eduardo Galeano

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Eduardo Galeano is, to my mind, the very best kind of writer. Defying categories, playing with media, voice and form, he is a journalist, novelist and poet.  For me he is also, strangely enough, one of the clearest routes that brought me to public history.  




I found The Book of Embraces on the bookshelf at a friend's house almost 20 years ago.  I asked if I could borrow it and he said it wasn't his cup of tea, "Keep it."  Soon after, another friend saw it on my bookshelf and asked if he could borrow it.  Off it went, just a few short weeks after it had arrived.  

I still have that copy. In it, my friend had inscribed: "I loved this book so much,  I don't really want to part with it. Still, I don't want to hang onto it a second longer when you've not yet read it."